Lately, when I’m standing in tree pose during yoga class, trying hard not to sway despite knowing that it’s perfectly acceptable to sway (after all, I’m a tree, right?), I find my gaze fixed on one of the many Buddha statues scattered around the studio. I used to stare at dark knots on the fake wooden floor but not anymore. Recently, I’ve been feeling this growing attachment to Buddha.
As I take in Buddha’s kind and gentle demeanour, a sense of peace washes over me. I feel gratitude and love towards this revered spiritual guru. The funny thing is, though, I know next to nothing about Buddhism. Yet I feel myself surrendering to Buddha as if he’s asked this of me.
He has done no such thing. He is simply a statue of a man I know almost nothing about yet I have granted him some sort of power. He, in this particular case, is an it carved out of a piece of wood that I have chosen to idolize.
Given my attachment to Buddha is essentially void of meaning, I’d probably fair just as well worshipping a plastic pig, an empty wine bottle, or a dark knot on a fake wooden floor. So what’s the attraction?
The path to enlightenment is paved with Buddhist icons.
That no doubt explains why Buddha sculptures adorn everything from yoga studios, yoga mats and yoga wear to bracelets, necklaces, phone cases, travel mugs, keychains … and disposable dinner plates? Yes. I actually found some disposable Buddha plates online.
As I observed my growing attachment to Buddha, I became aware of just how shallow my understanding of Buddhism is and, subsequently, how shallow I must be for holding something I know so little about in such high esteem.
I began to wonder, do I really have the right to use this icon — the subject of global adoration — for my own selfish fulfillment without actually putting in the work? In other words, without the worship? As I started to explore this question, I discovered two things that took me by surprise:
Firstly, Buddhists don’t ‘worship’ Buddha in the traditional sense
They don’t pray to Buddhist statues or seek his blessing. Rather, they show him the respect one would show a wise teacher. They don’t bow down to him as if he were an almighty god but look up to him with respect for his wisdom.
Those who are educated in the teachings of Buddha no doubt know this. But I’m guessing that the many who are swept up in the wave of Buddhist materialism do not. I certainly didn’t. While I was fully aware that he was a man who went by the name of Siddhartha, I also assumed he was a deity to be worshipped.
Secondly, that guy with the big, fat belly — that’s not Buddha
Nope. The statue of the jolly, laughing chubster sitting beneath the Wisteria tree in my backyard doesn’t represent Siddhartha; it represents a monk called Pu-Tai, the subject of 10th century Chinese folktales. An enlightened master, certainly, but not the guy I thought he was. (If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve said that.)
As my attachment to Buddha grows and I sense myself ready to bow at his feet if he were to say the word, what exactly am I searching for? The answer can be summed up with a quick trip down memory lane.
Remember that infamous diner scene in the movie, When Harry Met Sally?, when Sally fakes the big O to prove to Harry that he may not be the lover he thinks he is? Remember what the woman at a nearby table says after witnessing Sally’s performance? She says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
And that’s how I feel when I look at Buddha. I’LL HAVE WHAT HE’S HAVING, PLEASE!
Unfortunately, no restaurant I know of is serving up all of Buddha’s wisdom on a platter, so there’s no quick and easy way to find out if the path Buddha took towards enlightenment is the path for me. I did, however, catch a compelling Oprah Winfrey interview with Jack Kornfield on her podcast, SuperSoul Conversations, which has inspired me explore the idea further.
Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India and Burma
Oprah’s interview with Jack opened with her asking him if you have to be a Buddhist to practice Buddha’s wisdom. His answer was no. I interpreted that as an open invitation. He’s essentially saying we’re all free to enjoy the perks of the club, without having to subscribe. In other words, explore, practice, take what you may. Nothing says you have to be all in.
Lodro Rinzler is a Buddhist meditation teacher
On a friend’s recommendation, I recently purchased a copy of his book, The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide To Life For A New Generation. Catchy title aside, this book had me at the introduction:
“This isn’t your grandmother’s book on meditation. It’s for you. That is, assuming you like to have a beer once in a while, enjoy sex, have figured out that your parents are crazy, or get frustrated at work. It’s a book that doesn’t put Buddhism on some pedestal…” [like the one I’ve put Buddha on] “…so that you have to look up to it. It’s about looking into all the nooks and crannies of your life and applying Buddhist teachings to them, no matter how messy that may be.”
As I wrap up this post, I’m sitting on the couch, legs crossed, wearing a turquoise tank top with a picture of Buddha on the front. I am mindful that when I bought it, I was driven by an attachment — not to the wisdom and compassion Buddhist principles teach, but to the notion of being perceived as someone on a path to enlightenment. I wear, therefore I am.
I don’t think that’s a healthy attachment, and so I’m letting it go. Not the tank top, of course. Hell, no — it’s one of my summer faves. I’m letting go of the attachment, but I shall continue to wear the shirt because it’s soft and flowy, with hints of pink and gold.
Viv for today xo
In case it’s not apparent from the above post, I’m a bit of an overthinker. Is that good or bad? Here are my thoughts on the topic of over-analyzing.
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